Property Abandonment

According to the latest figures from the National Landlords Association, 36% of UK landlords have had their property abandoned by their tenants before. In the North East England, this figure is even higher at 58% having had their property abandoned at some point. At the other end of the spectrum, only 31% of landlords in the South West of England have experienced this issue. Just slightly lower than the figure for London which is 33%.

UK Region % of landlords who have had property abandoned
North East 58
Wales 56
North West 51
East Midlands 49
Scotland 48
Yorks & Humber 39
East England 38
West Midlands 37
South East 35
London 33
South West 31

Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association, has said on the matter:

The process of recovering an abandoned property is too long, frustrating, and costly for landlords at the moment.

Many people will be shocked by just how common this problem is, and landlords will be relieved to know that the Housing and Planning Act will create a new process to deal with the issue, giving them far greater security and peace when recovering properties they believe to have been abandoned.

We’ve long argued that councils should be able to hold on to the money they make when carrying out landlord prosecutions as this better enables them to implement long-term enforcement strategies to tackle the rogues.

Despite property abandonment being such a major issue, it is a bit of a grey area as the tenant is still legally entitled to return to the property and reside there again, even if they are well over in arrears with their rent from before. If the landlord accidentally takes the wrong course of action, for example, re-letting the empty property which the disappearing tenant later returns to, then the landlord could be the one in breach of the tenancy agreement and be on the wrong end of a civil or criminal offence.

In the situation of property abandonment, the tenant is far more protected legally than the landlord, who also has a responsibility to the tenant to safeguard any possessions left in the abandoned property.

One memorable case was in 1997, where a landlord received a fine of over £20,000 for re-letting her flat. What was particularly memorable about this specific case was that the tenant was serving a life sentence in prison, but was still able to win the court case from inside!

Though legally, your tenant may be in breach of the tenancy agreement by leaving the property unoccupied for over a certain period of time without informing you, they are still protected under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Unfortunately, during the time that the property is unoccupied, you have no right to reclaim the property and your landlord insurance premium may increase due to the increased risk of the property being unoccupied. At this point, your landlord insurance policy may even be invalidated and you may need Unoccupied Property Insurance. It’s a financial and legal quagmire.

Read more on “Why Do I Need Unoccupied Home Insurance?

Property Abandonment in the Housing and Planning Act 2016

The recent Housing and Planning Act 2016 will make it easier for landlords in England to regain possession of their property should it be abandoned by a rogue tenant. But the bill has come under fire for also making it easier for rogue landlords to exploit their tenants by illegally evicting them.

Under the new law, the landlord may be allowed to recover the abandoned property in as little as twelve weeks without needing a court order, so long as the specific criteria has been met:

  1. the property is in England.
  2. the tenant is in rent arrears by at least eight weeks.
  3. the tenant has not responded to three warning notices.

Signs of Property Abandonment

  1. All of the tenant’s possessions having been removed from the property is the largest indicator that the tenant has moved out without informing you.
  2. Keys have somehow in one way or another been returned to you without notice. This may have been through an agent or a friend of the tenant, or even by post.
  3. The tenant is unreachable through the contact details they had previously provided.
  4. No sign of the tenant, and an amount of rent is still owed.

If at least three of the four signs listed above match your situation then it is likely that this could be taken to mean that the tenant no longer intends to live there and, for whatever reason, decided not to tell you.

What To Do When Tenant Abandons Property in the UK

  1. Check for when they last paid rent, and whether they are in arrears. If they are still paying in full and on time, then they may have just gone away for a while and didn’t think to inform you.
  2. Attempt to make contact with your tenant. Try to call them, email them, write to them – and anyone else who they have listed contact details for (such as a guarantor, next of kin or employer). If the tenant was in receipt of housing benefits, contact the housing benefit department at your local authority and ask for their advice or whether they have any information that you don’t. Such as a registered change of address. Make sure that any communications with anyone, via whatever means, is documented as evidence of your efforts.
  3. Ask their neighbours if they have seen the tenant recently. A neighbour might even have also spotted a moving van. If anyone can help with information, ask them to provide a witness statement.
  4. Peek in through the window to see if any of the tenant’s belongings are still in the property, or whether the property looks as though it has been emptied.
  5. If all signs point toward property abandonment, only then are you legally permitted to enter the premises without notifying the tenant as there may be a safety issue and it may be a genuine emergency. Depending on your tenancy agreement, you may have a clause which states that you are allowed to enter the premises if an inspection notice has been given at least 24 hours prior. In which case, you should drop a letter through the door stating that you will be carrying out an “inspection”, the day before you intend to enter the premises, to cover yourself legally. It is wise to bring another person with you as witness, and take date-stamped photos as evidence if the property is empty. Do not remove any of the tenant’s belongings that they may have left behind.
  6. If the keys were returned to you by the tenant with no explanation (through your letterbox, mailed to you, or left somewhere for you) and you’re concerned about the risks of the property being unsecured, then you may have a case for changing the locks, or installing security measures to prevent vandals or squatters. If the keys have been left behind for you and the tenant’s possessions have been removed from the property then this may come under “implied surrender”, making it easier for you to take back the property. Any belongings that the tenant has left behind, however, may be taken to mean that the tenant intends on returning to their home – which may make “implied surrender” harder to argue.
  7. In case the tenant returns, leave them an Abandonment Notice somewhere where they are likely to see it (but not so conspicuously that it attracts attention from vandals and squatters), explaining that you believe that they have abandoned the property. If you have changed the locks, then you will also need to inform them that if they do require access into the building they must contact you to obtain the key. It is legally important that you do not deprive them of access into the property, as it is legally still considered to be their home! Take a date-stamped photo of the Abandonment Notice as evidence.
  8. Send the local authority’s housing department all evidence that you have accumulated that indicates that the tenant has abandoned the property.

The tricky situation is that the tenant may have just appeared to have abandoned the property, but still fully intends to return to it. Even if the property was completely empty of their belongings, and you have had no luck in contacting them, there may be a very good explanation. This is why it is crucial that the property remain in the state that it was left in by the tenant for if they should return. At least, until you have legal right to take over the property.

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